Gastroesophageal reflux disease and bulimia nervosa – a review of the literature


  • The design of the review was agreed upon by both researchers and the literature searches and review carried out by MD with the supervision of JJ.

Miss Mary Denholm, BA (Hons), Jesus College, Turl Street, Oxford, OX1 3DW, UK. Email:


Bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders have been on the increase for the past half century. Self-induced vomiting is often practiced as a method of weight control in these patients, potentially causing acidic damage to the esophagus of the kind observed in cases of gastresophageal reflux disease. To ascertain whether patients suffering from bulimia nervosa had an increased rate of reflux-related symptoms, potentially placing them at risk of developing sequelae such as Barrett's esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma, a literature review was performed via searches of databases including PubMed, Medline, OVID and PsycINFO and a recursive search of the literature. The search terms were: bulimia nervosa; reflux; esophageal adenocarcinoma; Barrett's esophagus; eating disorders; oral; dental; complications. Several case reports were identified detailing the occurrence of an esophageal tumor in patients with a history of bulimia. This was supported to some degree by studies detailing higher incidences of reflux symptoms in eating disordered patients compared to controls but there was large variability in study design, quality and results. From these results an association is suggested as possible but is far from being proved conclusively. Further investigation is required using larger patient groups, better study design controlling for confounding factors and symptom characterisation.